Graham Rahal apexes Turn 11 during Chevrolet Dual in Detroit practice
Photo: Bret Kelley / INDYCAR

Starting from pole in the first of two full-length races at the Raceway at Belle Isle Park, Graham Rahal cruised to his fifth career Verizon IndyCar Series victory on the strength of a two-stop strategy and a flawless drive.

The race went green with Rahal jumping out to an early lead and Helio Castroneves in pursuit until the yellow flag flew for the first time on Lap 1.

James Hinchcliffe’s No. 5 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda broke loose on the opening turn, spinning the car and stranding him at Turn 2. With other cars narrowly missing Hinchcliffe and the popular Canadian driver avoiding the concrete wall, the car was restarted and back on track.

Under the caution, Hinchcliffe, Spencer Pigot, Mikhail Aleshin and Oriol Servia all visited the pits when they opened on Lap 2. The race restarted at the conclusion of Lap 3 with Rahal once again leading the field into Turn 1.

Several drivers committed to a three-stop strategy early, including Tony Kanaan, Carlos Munoz, Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay. Josef Newgarden also hit pit lane on Lap 10.

Pit stops continued for the rest of the field over the next eight laps with the top five — Rahal, Alexander Rossi, Scott Dixon, Will Power and Conor Daly — yet to pit with 18 laps complete.

Power and Daly made their stops before Rahal who came in on Lap 23 for his first stop. The Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver was followed closely by Rossi who was running more than 10 seconds behind the No. 15 Honda. Dixon stopped one lap later, completing the cycle for the lead group.

Following one lap led for Mikhail Aleshin, who was off strategy, Castroneves took over the race lead with Newgarden, Rahal, Takuma Sato and Rossi completing the top five on Lap 25.

Helio Castroneves rolls through Turn 8 in Detroit
Photo: Bret Kelley / INDYCAR

Green-flag running with Castroneves out front was short lived with the race’s second full-course caution coming out on Lap 26 for two separate incidents involving Charlie Kimball and Daly.

Kimball spun, stopping between Turns 3 and 4 with the front wing damaged on the No. 83 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. The No. 4 AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet stopped nearby in Turn 4. While Kimball’s car was able to be restarted by the Holmatro Safety Team, Daly’s was not.

The race restarted on Lap 30 with Castroneves out front of Rahal by 2.7 seconds on Lap 33 and 4.7 seconds on Lap 35. On Lap 36, the Team Penske veteran made his second pit stop of the race, dropping to 12th and promoting Rahal back to the the front of the field.

Upon leading his 28th lap, Rahal’s performance became a career best with the second-generation driver leading the most laps in a single Indy car race.

Out front, Rahal continued to build his lead amongst the two-stop group with an 8.7-second advantage over Rossi on Lap 45 and a 10.5-second gap two laps later.

Graham Rahal streaks out of Turn 13 during Detroit practice
Photo: Chris Jones / INDYCAR

Both Rahal and Rossi came in on Lap 48 for their final pit stops, moving Hinchcliffe up to first position. One lap later, Hinchcliffe stopped and gave the race lead to Dixon.

Dixon’s brief tenure as the race leader came to a close on Lap 50 with his final pit stop. On Lap 51, Rahal officially reassumed the race lead with an 8.5-second advantage over Dixon one lap later.

Over the final 19 laps, Dixon slowly ate into Rahal’s lead, dropping it to under seven seconds by Lap 67.

Rahal took the white flag 6.5 seconds ahead of Dixon with only 14 turns remaining to take his first victory of 2017 and become the seventh different Verizon IndyCar Series winner in seven races.

The Ohio-born driver took the checkered flag 6.1 seconds ahead of Dixon with Hinchcliffe, Newgarden and Rossi completing the top five. 

“Everything went according to plan today,” said Rahal after his victory. “You know I said yesterday, one of my comments was that I felt if I could qualify up front I could dominate this race, and I got a lot of heat by the other drivers for that comment, but I think we did it.

“I don’t say things unless I believe it, and today this car, United Rentals, TurnsForTroops, we raised a lot of money to help our vets. But man, I can’t tell you how good it feels.”

Aleshin, Castroneves, Sato, Ed Jones and Pigot rounded out the top 10 with Honda holding a 7-3 advantage over Chevrolet in the group.

Scott Dixon sets up for Turn 11 during Detroit practice
Photo: Bret Kelley / INDYCAR

Thanks to his second-placed finish, Dixon moved to the top of the championship standings with 275 points after seven rounds. Castroneves sits two points behind in second with Sato a further 15 points back in third. Simon Pagenaud with 248 and Rossi with 220 are fourth and fifth, respectively.

Next up for the series is the second race of the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit doubleheader, set to go green on Sunday at 3:50 p.m. EDT with coverage once again on ABC beginning at 3:30 p.m. A 30-minute qualifying session to set the grid for Race 2 will be held at 10:45 a.m. with live streaming available on INDYCAR Race Control.

Comment here...